"It's about supporting, not fixing"
Alumni profile: Helen Bryant, Counselling graduate
There’s nothing like moving countries to make you consider a career change …
Helen Bryant and her family moved to New Zealand from the United Kingdom in 2006. After being a hairdresser for 18 years, Helen was ready for a change, so when her children started school in New Zealand, she did too - working as a teacher aide.
While teacher aiding, Helen found she was increasingly being sent children with behavioural issues to work with. Some people might have found this daunting, but Helen said she could really relate to these children and enjoyed helping them “I could always see the good in people who are being difficult.”
It was this empathy that made counselling such a natural progression for Helen. “I liked helping the children, but I didn’t want to teach, and I wanted to make a difference in the life of the whole family. So I started volunteering for Lifeline to see if I’d like counselling.” And she did like it. Helen enrolled to study counselling full time at Wintec and graduated in 2014.
Helen had been out of school for over twenty years when she enrolled, “I was scared to death! I didn’t even know how to write an essay” she said “I went to see the team at student learning services – they really helped.” Another big help in her studies she says were the academic staff in the centre for health and social practice who she describes as role models. “My tutors were inspiring because they were real, they had all worked as counsellors.”
“The practical experience I had at Wintec was very helpful. The cultural aspects of the programme have also helped me hugely – I learned a lot about the treaty and tikanga Māori, and we even got to go on noho marae. The theory we learned opened my eyes and has helped me to be the best counsellor I can be … I apply what I learned every day.”
After graduating, Helen worked voluntarily at Kainga Aroha Community house in Te Awamutu (TA) counselling seven boys (who were the children of women going through Te Awamutu women’s refuge) who needed support, she then gained full-time employment as a counsellor for Parentline in Hamilton.
So what’s it like to work as a counsellor? “It’s about supporting, not fixing” says Helen, “You need to be open and non-judgemental … there’s no place for stereotyping.” Helen works with children aged three to twelve years. Her counselling work involves a combination of sand play, play therapy, art therapy, talking and active listening, and other appropriate modalities to enable children to communicate their feelings. She works closely with the child’s family offering family counselling if necessary, lawyers, CYFS (child youth and family), and is passionate about letting children have a voice. Helen has also recently taken on facilitation of Parentline’s ‘Keeping ourselves safe’ programme educating parents and children about preventing sexual abuse and keeping children safe. The biggest highlight of her role she says though is seeing the change in people’s lives “When the children come in broken and go out smiling at the other end, that’s huge for me.”
Helen has big plans for the future. In the short term, she wants to learn the full range of programmes offered by Parentline, so she can facilitate more workshops. In the long term, Helen hopes to open her own counselling practice. Talking to Helen, you can tell this is a very real goal for her, and we expect that sometime in the not too distant future she’ll be very busy working from her own practice rooms.
Thinking about getting into counselling? Helen has some great advice that can be easily applied to anyone regardless of their area of study: “Be passionate about what you want to do. Look after yourself. Put yourself out there and stay focused.”